The Wright stuff: Delon a perfect fit for Utes basketball program
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah guard Delon Wright is an accomplished stat sheet stuffer, an individual success on the basketball floor who can score, rebound, block shots, make steals and dish out assists with precision.
The 21-year-old junior college transfer isn’t a one-man show, however. He’s a dedicated team guy and the byproduct of a lot of support.
“I know I’m not in this alone,” Wright said. “I have family around me and friends that are giving good advice to keep me pushing.”
It’s working. After 27 games with the Utes, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard is averaging a team-high 16.3 points per game while making 59.8 percent of his shots. He also tops the squad with 145 assists, 71 steals and 37 blocks. His 6.8 rebounds per game rank second on the team.
“He’s done a really good job fitting in with our plan,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Statistically, he’s doing a nice job in a lot of different categories, not just for our team but league-wise.”
Krystkowiak added that Wright is a real versatile player who provides the Utes with some size in the backcourt. His wing span gives them more length out on the perimeter.
“He’s a good basketball player,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s interesting ... I don’t know if he does any one thing great. But he does a lot of things really well.”
Wright’s versatility developed off advice from Reggie Morris Jr., his high school coach in Los Angeles.
“My coach made me do like everything. He said, ‘You do everything and it’ll be tough for you to have an off-night,’ ” Wright recalled. “I just try to do a lot of things.”
Instead of focusing on points, Wright said he puts an emphasis on getting assists, steals and other stuff.
“The thing that makes him such a unique player is you can play him regardless if he’s scoring or not. He’s one of the few guys that can go a game without scoring and still be the most valuable player on the floor,” Morris said. “So he has real good timing, real good instincts and he has a knack for the ball. He’s taken pride in doing the things that he needs to do other than scoring. His scoring also comes. He’s just a well-rounded basketball player.”
Morris coached Levzinger High to a California state championship while Wright was named the CIF Southern Section Division 1A Player of the Year.
“He moves at such a calculated pace. He doesn’t look like he’s asserting a ton of energy,” said Morris, who explained that when Wright was younger, coaches would get on him about it until they saw the stat sheet and the numbers he was posting. “So you kind of have to let him play at his pace. He’s watching and observing. He’s just kind of like a camera out there. He’s taking pictures and he’s getting to the ball and he kind of knows where things are going to go before they go.”
A high basketball IQ
Wright’s mother, Stacy, said he’s always been very competitive with a high IQ on the basketball court.
However, there’s much more to her youngest son. She describes him as laid back and excellent — just like his game.
“His IQ, period, is big to me because he’s always been very inquisitive about just everything,” Stacy said.
Wright’s father, Ray, also vouches for his competitiveness and willingness to learn.
“He listens. You can tell him what to do or what he’s not doing and he listens and takes the advice,” Ray said. “When you tell him something, he uses it to his advantage.”
Another proud family member is Wright’s older brother Dorell, a 10-year NBA veteran who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I’m very proud,” Dorell said. “I’m proud of him not only as a basketball player but as a person as well — a student-athlete who is taking care of business.”
Dorell is especially pleased to see his little brother succeed after all the hard work he has put in.
“I don’t try to overwhelm him with a lot of different advice and stuff like that. I just try to coach him on the little things I see, the little gray areas,” Dorell said. “He’s a smart kid. He has a high basketball IQ and he’s going to be real good. He has a lot more room to improve, so that’s always good. I just try to coach him on the things I see him doing wrong or things he can do better like being aggressive.”
Dorell has challenged Delon to get to the free-throw line at least five times every game because of his footwork and ability to get to the basket. He’s encouraged his sibling to use such advantages to make himself and his teammates better.
Dorell, though, realizes that his brother's style of play isn’t based on aggressive scoring. Morris told Dorell that Delon’s game was more about getting everyone involved.
“When I understood that, I understood his game more,” said Dorell, who noted that Delon has really taken Morris’ advice to do things other than score to heart.
As such, Delon isn’t a scorer like Dorell.
“We are two totally different players. I was never that smart on the court. I made a lot of bad decisions. He’d get himself in trouble here and there but that comes with being a point guard,” Dorell said. “I was more just a scorer. I really didn’t learn how to play and get guys involved until I got to the highest level of basketball. I was able to be coached like that and that’s something, that’s a talent he has now — being able to get guys involved, making guys around him better.”
Dorell noted that Delon continually develops his skills by playing with guys who are equal or better than him during the offseason — such as participating in the famed Drew League with NBA players and college stars in Los Angeles.
It’s proven to be quite beneficial.
“I’m sure it’s super valuable to see his older brother succeed and be able to help his younger brother navigate some of the things that take place,” Krystkowiak said.
The Wright brothers are close. They communicate on a regular basis. Dorell even found his way to watch Delon and the Utes play at Washington State and UCLA this season in the midst of his NBA schedule with the Trail Blazers.
“Our relationship is real good. He’s had a big impact,” Delon said. “He’s showed me things I need to do better and he’s helping me develop my game.”
Dorell is also a big supporter of the path Delon is taking off the court. Although he never played college basketball himself — opting for an opportunity to turn pro straight out of high school instead — Dorell places a great value on Delon getting an education.
“Getting your education is definitely important. That is why I somewhat like the age limit and guys having to go to school for two years. I think it’s perfect because a lot of kids are immature. A lot of people don’t know how to live on their own,” Dorell said. “You get to learn a lot going to college — managing your money, the little money that you do have — and you cherish those things.”
As such, he likes the opportunities and experiences that Delon is having in college.
“I love the fact that he’s getting his education,” Dorell said. “He’s hitting the books hard and he’s trying to become a better person and a player.”
Delon acknowledges that they discuss the college experience a lot.
“He tells me to enjoy college because he kind of wishes he was able to experience it,” Delon said. “... So he kind of lives his college through me.”
Excelling at Utah
Following a stint at a Philadelphia prep school and two successful seasons at City College of San Francisco, Wright signed with Utah, choosing the Utes over reported offers from Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Washington and Washington State.
Former Ute Jarred DuBois played a role in his decision. He has a really good relationship with coach Morris and has known Delon Wright since the player was in eighth grade
“I knew what impact he could have — not only on this team this year but on this program,” DuBois said. “He’s a program-changing talent, not only his ability on the court but just the type of teammate he is.”
DuBois felt that Wright would fit in well with current Utah players like Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Jordan Loveridge.
“I knew that with the guidance of Coach K and the coaching staff that he would really blossom as a player, as a total player,” DuBois said.
Much of Wright’s success, DuBois added, can be attributed to having a father who has done a great job of keeping him level-headed throughout his life. DuBois also credits Dorell for doing a great job of showing Delon what it’s like to act like a professional and maintain a mindset of continual improvement.
“When it’s all over with, you’ll get your due,” DuBois said. “Your time is going to come and you’ll be ready for it. So just keep working and stay positive.”
DuBois is among those committed to doing whatever he can to help the 21-year-old reach his potential.
“I don’t think there’s a limit. I don’t like to talk about potential because it’s a dangerous word. But I think as long as he continues to work, continues to be a sponge that he is, that the sky is the limit,” DuBois said. “Because no one thought that he would be able to do what he’s doing now. So I can only imagine — a year from now, two years from now, what he can do.”
What people don’t realize, DuBois continued, is the amount of energy and basketball IQ it takes on every play to get an assist, grab a rebound, or score on consecutive possessions.
“He always knows where his teammates are and he always knows where the other teams are,” DuBois said. “I don’t know, but he always knows what the next play is going to be.”
Wright made an immediate impact with his Utah teammates. Junior center Dallin Bachynski knew the Utes had something special while playing with him over the summer.
The feeling grew when the season started.
“Once he gets in a game, it’s like two steps up from what he can do without the lights on,” Bachynski said. “So I’m impressed with him.”
Bachynski added that Wright does so much on the floor. As such, there was a smooth transition to the team.
“It wasn’t very difficult just because of the way Delon plays,” said Loveridge. “He’s not a ‘me’ guy. He’s a ‘team’ guy.”
Wright has evolved into a leader for a Utah team in the midst of its first winning season since 2008-09. He readily admits his leadership isn’t vocal. It’s more by example.
“I wanted to come in and prove myself first before I came in trying to be like a leader first,” Wright said. “I wanted to show by example. I wanted the guys to trust me.”
As time passes and the number of victories by the Utes grow, Wright has grown more comfortable with his surroundings — just as DuBois envisioned.
“I just didn’t want him at another Pac-12 school. I think it’s been really good for the community to see what type of all-around player he is, and the team has really benefitted from the fact he can do so many different things.”
A bright future
DuBois said the exciting thing about Wright is that the best is yet to come.
“He hasn’t even reached close to how good he’ll be, which is fun, DuBois said.”
Wright’s skill set is on a high trajectory. Morris, who also coached Dorell and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook in high school, ranks him in the same territory.
“Delon is right up there with those guys, just as far as effectiveness and guys you want on your team to win a game,” Morris said. “He is definitely up there at that point. You win a lot of games with a guy like Delon.”
That, however, could be good or bad news for Utah basketball fans. The lure of an NBA career may be growing.
“I’m going to be an honest big brother to him. Once the season is over, you evaluate yourself, you evaluate where you think you can go in the draft and then whatever else happens after that happens,” Dorell said. “I can’t tell him because I’m a kid that didn’t go to college. So if it’s the best situation for him, you’ve got to do it. If not, it’s back to school — finish school and come back and do it again.”
Dorell, though, is confident Delon can play at the next level.
“Yeah. No doubt. Yes sir. He’s definitely an NBA guy,” Dorell said. “I see a lot of Rajon Rondo in his game, a guy that doesn’t have to score but can impact a game in different areas.”
Dorell’s Portland teammate Earl Watson told him that he sees a lot of Gary Payton — without all the scoring — in Delon’s game.
“He’s able to impact the game on both ends of the floor and can win you games. When you’ve got a guy like that, that’s a valuable player,” Dorell said. “His shot and his jumper, that will come around. I was never a great shooter when I came out of high school. I developed that.”
Delon noted that getting more comfortable with and gaining confidence in when to take outside shots is something he would like to work on before moving on to the next level.
However, Delon has yet to decide what his immediate future holds.
“I’m not really sure. It depends on what kind of feedback I’m getting at the end of the year. But I’m pretty much going to be back next year,” Delon said. “But I’ll see what happens after the season with it. I’m not really worried about it right now.”
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